If you happened to be on the streets of Delhi last Sunday night wondering why the night seemed so alive with cap wearing men spilling all over the streets on foot, tempos, motorcycles, buses and cars; it was shab e baraat. The fourteenth night of Shabaan, the eighth Islamic month preceding Ramzan, the month of fasting. Muslim traditions affirm it is the Night of Forgiveness during which Allah seals the destinies for the coming year.
Muslims visit graveyards and dargahs seeking forgiveness for themselves and for the souls of their departed loved ones. In the subcontinent, the night assumes a festive flavour with fireworks and lighting of homes. Halwa is prepared, nazar and niaz offered over it. Food is distributed to the poor and the pious stay up all night in prayer.
Although Muslim women rarely visit graveyards, each shab e baraat I visit the community graveyard called Shidipura, opposite Filmistan cinema near Azad Market. Like most other Muslim graveyards in the city, this too is lit up on this night and we offered prayers for our relatives who lie buried here. My father’s father got his grave marked during his lifetime after his wife’s death.
In my mother's parents graves, destiny played a role. Last week I shared the story of how Naani Amma, my mother’s mother went to Pakistan along with her children in 1947. She left her husband who refused to leave Delhi but soon came back to retain Indian citizenship and join Nana. After Nana died in 1953 and two daughters taken to Pakistan by their husbands, Naani wished to migrate permanently.
Despite dissuasion from her sons and my mother, Naani remained obstinate in her decision for the horrors of partition had left permanent scars of insecurity. In 1960, Naani managed to procure a fake emergency permit from Calcutta for a hundred rupees that enabled her to migrate to Pakistan. In those days such official permits were issued by the Pakistani consular services in various cities.
She managed to procure Pakistani citizenship in Karachi, expressing a desire to die there. Naani continued to visit occasionally, her last trip to Delhi was in October 1983. Ammi sent me to Karachi to help with the Indian visa and escort her mother. Naani's visa was valid for 90 days and her passport had been submitted to the home ministry for a visa extension. There was no need for it because Naani died on the ninetieth day.
After thirty years of her husband’s death, as fate would have it, we found a vacant grave adjacent to Nana where we laid Naani to rest. Her true homeland had beckoned her to embrace its earth. I placed some flowers on their graves and prayed that when the end comes, my remains too mingle with the soil of Delhi.